If you have been reading entries here during the past year, you already know that Winds of Peace Foundation has begun an education initiative in Nicaragua in the memory of Louise Nielsen. (See the sidebar LVN Initiative on our homepage.) We affectionately refer to it as the “Louise Initiative,” due to its focus on young women in particular and the fact that Louise had such strong feelings about the importance of education for young women everywhere. We have funded several projects in this first year of the effort and hope to see some “first fruits” of the seeds that were planted over the coming months. Having become exposed to the reality of Nicaraguan education, it’s a direction that truly feels “right” as a priority for us.
A good deal of what we have heard and read about the plight of Nicaraguan education has to do with the social implications of an undereducated nation. And it’s true that the limitations on education there have contributed mightily to many of the difficulties experienced. When a large percentage of a nation’s population exits the education system before the fourth grade, social imbalances are certain to exist in ways that create hardships on the very society that permits the secession. Matters of health, families, gender equality, sexual violence, substance abuse, and technology all impact national development in far-reaching ways, and require at least a minimum educational base for the people who will be required to step up to such issues. Few would disagree that an educated populace will be far better equipped to address the issues than one which is not.
But the further I acquaint myself with education challenges of a place like Nicaragua, the more clearly I understand that as great as the impact of undereducation is on social development, education is, at its core, an economic issue. Simply put, those who are educated for the future are the only ones who will prosper in it. And that requires financial investment, perseverance and patience on the part of the societies seeking such prosperity.
The days of making a living by virtue of a strong back and a willingness to get dirty are soon to be of the past, even in Nicaragua. Rural peasants can still plant crops and harvest by hand, but eventually that harvest will be sold. Increasingly, this means interface with buyers, understanding markets, knowing free trade and fair trade, developing the skills of collaborative work and institutional strengthening. The desire for such knowledge may be innate in all humans, but the methodologies of its application must be learned. In a global marketplace, it’s the essence of economic survival. In todays’s world, educational advancements are not only a national measure, but also a comparison across the world’s economy. Rural producers in coffee cooperatives may not need an MBA or an understanding of global marketplaces, but they do require an understanding of how their cooperative should be bringing value to their harvests. They may not require an understanding of Starbuck’s strategic direction over the next five years, but they do need to know the essence of “the game they are playing,” how the score is kept, how runs are scored and what every member’s contribution to the effort must be. Reliance upon someone else to tell us what we ought to be doing in our own self-interest creates lots of vulnerabilities. Winds of Peace will continue to seek ways of building sustainable self-reliance in Nicaragua, not only by providing funding of grants and microloans, but also by accentuating the urgency of enhanced education opportunities.
My involvement in such an initiative seems ludicrous in some ways: my own academic profile is, in my view, much less than it could/should have been. I never starred in any classes, never completed a post-graduate degree, have never worked within an education system, and years ago could barely help my children with their high school math! I fully recognize that I’ve had far more opportunities for education than my intellect may show. But I also know that I love to read, and that I have a curiosity about life and living, and an enthusiasm for new ideas and different ways of looking at the world. I figure that those traits likely arose from my educational endeavors somewhere along the line, and for that I feel very fortunate. My education did not point me to a successful career, but I know that it opened my mind and my possibilities.
Educational development may be a good thing in its own right, and as a human right. But at its core, especially in this time of turmoil and ultra-competition, education is an economic matter. Come to think of it, it’s not only a critical lesson for the people of Nicaragua, but one which we in North America would do well to remember as our own educational and economic grades continue to fall on the global report card….